Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced to make the country tobacco-free by 2040. The government has included tobacco control in the Eighth Five-Year Plan. However, the proposed budget hinders the formation of tobacco-free Bangladesh announced by PM as said by the speakers in a webinar titled ‘Tobacco Tax and Our Response to Budget 2021-22’ on the evening of June 3 organized by Dhaka Ahsania Mission Health Sector.
Dhaka Ahsania Mission Health and Wash Sector Director Iqbal Masud presided over the webinar. Dr. Mohammad Abdul Majid, former chairman of the National Board of Revenue, Professor. Dr. Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman, National Board of Revenue, Professor. Rumana Haque, Department of Economics, Dhaka University, Convener, BNTTP, Syed Mahbubul Alam, Technical Consultant, The Union, Sushanta Sinha, Special Representative, Jamuna Television and Ataur Rahman Masud, Senior Policy Advisor, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids took part in the discussion. Md. Shariful Islam, Project Coordinator, Tobacco Control Project, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, presented the budget analysis paper at the beginning of the discussion.
Dr. Mohammad Abdul Majid, a former secretary to the government and former chairman of the National Board of Revenue, said, it seems to me that the issue of tobacco tax is not clear to policymakers. As a result, the tax on tobacco products does not increase in a promising manner every year. I hope we can make our position on tobacco tax increase clearer to policymakers in the future.
Iqbal Masud, Director of Health and Wash Sector, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, said multinational tobacco companies have the opportunity to make huge profits in this year’s budget, as always. Keeping different slabs of cigarettes unchanged will leave the consumer with the opportunity to switch the slabs. Cigarette prices, especially in the middle and lower slabs, did not play any role to 72% of consumers and low-income people for changing their smoking habits. But rather increased their health risks. The younger generation who can start smoking at the same time cannot be discouraged from smoking.
Professor Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman of, National Board of Revenue, said, I will call it a tobacco industry-friendly budget. This is because the government will be deprived of additional revenue of Tk 3,400 crore as the supplementary duty has been increased as per the demands of the anti-tobacco workers and a part of the supplementary duty has not been imposed in the form of a specific tax. Tobacco companies, on the other hand, will see an increase in their revenue, which in turn will encourage them to engage in death marketing, which is very worrying.
Professor. Rumana Huque, Department of Economics, Dhaka University, Convener, BNTTP, said that the proposed budget has kept prices and supplementary tariffs unchanged at low and medium slabs and has increased prices at high and premium slabs very little which is very frustrating. At higher and premium slabs, the rate has been increased by Tk 5 and Tk 7 per 10 sticks respectively. This means that the price per stick has increased by 50 paisa and 70 paisa respectively. This increase is disappointing considering the per capita income growth and inflation. This will not discourage consumers from smoking in any way. Besides, the retail price of Zarda has been kept unchanged at Tk 40 per 10 grams and Gul at Tk 20 per 10 grams. This move to discourage the use of smokeless tobacco is extremely frustrating.
Syed Mahbubul Alam, technical consultant, The Union, said in his budget speech this time, the finance minister also spoke about reducing tobacco use and increasing revenue. However, there is no reflection in the proposed budget to discourage the use of bidis, which are harmful to public health. The government has not changed the price of bidi in this year’s proposed budget. As a result, the use of bidi will further increase among low and poor people who are the main consumers of bidi. This will have a detrimental effect on the health of the poor. On the other hand, for the sixth year in a row, it has been proposed to keep the supplementary duty on bidis at 30 percent, which is undoubtedly against public health.
Ataur Rahman Masud, Senior Policy Advisor, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, Coronavirus infection has shown us how important it is to take precautionary measures to protect public health. However, despite the opportunity, effective tax and price hike measures have been ignored in the proposed budget to discourage the use of tobacco products. In particular, the government had the opportunity to generate additional revenue by raising tobacco taxes, which could have been spent on health during the Coronation period. The most effective way to reduce tobacco use is to increase the price of tobacco products by raising taxes. High prices discourage young people from starting to use tobacco and encourage current users to quit. Everyone expects that the tobacco tax will be increased in the revision budget.
Professor Sohel Reza Choudhury, Head, Department of Epidemiology & Research, National Heart Foundation Hospital & Research Institute Sayyida Akther, Coordinator, TABINAJ, Helal Ahmed, General Secretary, pratyasha anti-drugs club, Mohammad Shamimul Islam, Team Leader, BCCP also spoke at the discussion.